Of cave, care and camaraderie: Serene scene of spirituality

Monday, 27 August 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Not much time has passed since the heart-warming heroics heard from Thailand. The boys of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) academy team whose ages range from 11 to 16, with their 25-year-old coach Ekaphol Chantawong, were trapped inside the six-mile Tham Luang cave in the Doi Nang Non mountain range on 23 June for 18 days until they were rescued. Much analysis on this mammoth effort focused on the meticulous planning and marvellous execution. Let me focus on a lesser-spoken perspective. What allowed the team to sustain their hope? The coach’s familiarity with meditation and apt sharing of it with the boys at the opportune time is highly significant. Let’s unravel the fascinating facts about spirituality. 


  “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow; our life is the creation of our mind.” So said the Buddha when highlighting the significance of the mind-body relationship. As he vividly puts it: ‘Samma Ditti’ (right seeing) leads to ‘Samma Vayama’ (right action). You can’t go ahead and achieve something noble unless you see it clearly. In simple terms, clear thinking leads to clever action. 

The central point here is intelligence. As we discussed sometime ago, intelligence comes from the Latin verb ‘intellegere’, which means ‘to understand’. It is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language and to learn. 

We know for sure intelligence is not only reading, writing and doing arithmetic. It goes far beyond. Emotional intelligence has become quite popular in showcasing the power of harnessing positive emotions. The newest addition to the list is spiritual intelligence. 

What is spiritual intelligence? It is what all great religious leaders aptly demonstrated. It is what was available in leaders of all spheres of life from time immemorial. It is what got repackaged by Dana Zohar, a quantum physicist in the late nineties. Interestingly, her work heralded an era where a whole new focus on spirituality linked to intelligence began. 


Let’s look at spirituality from a management perspective. It involves a term for many beliefs and practices intended to develop one’s inner life. It is associated with a feeling of interconnectedness. In other words, it is the vital principle that gives a breath of life to a physical organism. 

As Zoar vividly describes, spirituality is to ‘know’ who you are and spiritual intelligence is to ‘realise’ who you are and to live life in that awareness. You have always been who you are and in truth you can never be other than who you are, but it requires ‘realisation’ i.e. that moment when you ‘see it’, when you ‘get it’ and then you ‘be it’. 

Spirituality is different from being religious. You can to all the religious places in the world but if you do not demonstrate values in your action, you are not spiritual yet. Being spiritual is essentially maintaining three connections. They are: connecting to self, to others and to the universe (higher being). 

Spiritual intelligence

According to Zohar and Marshall (1997), it is the intelligence that makes us whole, that gives us our integrity. It is the intelligence of the deep self. It is the intelligence with which we ask fundamental questions and with which we reframe our answers.

Kathleen Noble (2000) tells us that it is the conscious recognition that physical reality is embedded within a larger, multidimensional reality with which we interact, consciously and unconsciously, on a moment-to-moment basis. In brief, it is the conscious pursuit of psychological health, not only for ourselves but also for the sake of the global community. It can even be simplified further as Tony Buzan (2001) did. Spiritual intelligence is the awareness of the world and your place in it. It is also the ability to act with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the circumstances (Wigglesworth, 2004).

Therefore, it is interesting to see that a distinctly different intelligence is emerging in the form of spiritual intelligence. What are the ingredients of it? Let’s discover that now.

Components of spiritual intelligence

Based on the work done by Zohar and Marshall (1997), the following have been highlighted as key components. 

  • Self-awareness: Knowing what I believe in and value, and what deeply motivates me. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a reputed Vietnamese Monk told said: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor”.  Spontaneity: Living in and being responsive to the moment. 
  • Being vision and value-led: Acting from principles and deep beliefs, and living accordingly.
  • Holism: Seeing larger patterns, relationships, and connections; having a sense of belonging.
  • Compassion: Having the quality of “feeling-with” and deep empathy.
  • Celebration of diversity: Valuing other people for their differences, not despite them.
  • Field independence: Standing against the crowd and having one’s own convictions.
  • Humility: Having the sense of being a player in a larger drama, of one’s true place in the world.
  • Tendency to ask fundamental ‘Why?’ questions: Needing to understand things and get to the bottom of them.
  • Ability to reframe: Standing back from a situation or problem and seeing the bigger picture; seeing problems in a wider context.
  • Positive use of adversity: Learning and growing from mistakes, setbacks and suffering.
  • Sense of vocation: Feeling called upon to serve, to give something back.

Having looked into the components of spiritual intelligence, it will be interesting to see its connection to values.

Values as the core

Jim Collins’ bestselling book ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’ concludes that truly great companies are visionary and value-driven. In his latest book, ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t’, Collins researched 11 companies that made the transition from being good companies to being ‘great’ companies on par with the companies in ‘Built to Last’. A key finding was that each company had what he calls ‘Level 5 Leadership’ or in simple terms, leadership at its greatest level. 

The logical connection here is that great leaders seem to demonstrate most or all of the characteristics described as spiritual intelligence by Zohar. Great leaders showed a profound personal humility and a powerful faith that they and their company will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

Spiritual intelligence as fivefold capacities

Robert Emmons (2000) speaks on five key capacities of spiritual intelligence. They are as follows: 

Capacity to transcend the physical and material - This refers to mental action of thinking beyond what is seen. It involves a deep level of thinking.

Capacity to experience heightened states of consciousness - This is essentially mindfulness. An area where conscious breathing can be of very high importance. 

Capacity to sanctify everyday experience - In simplifying, this refers to accepting things as they are rather than as they ought to be. It makes one positive and constructive.

Capacity to utilise spiritual resources to solve problems - Relying on your ‘built-in wisdom’ or trusting your gut in approaching problems where there is no precedent is what it means. 

Capacity to be virtuous - The reference here is to be ethical in demonstrating values in action.

It seems the common thread that cuts across all the above aspects is the connectivity. 

SQ and SI

SI as we already discussed is the acronym for spiritual intelligence. Then what is SQ? It is termed as spiritual quotient. In brief, SI is measured using SQ.

Spiritual quotient (SQ) is still in its early development. Even though it is a conceptually rich area, the practical dimensions also should be given due prominence. There are still some issues to be resolved. Among them the non-availability of one consistent way of measuring features prominently. It is also difficult to measure by traditional means. The solution would be to introduce a competency-based SI assessment instrument. Spiritual Intelligence Self Report Inventory (SISRI) is one such major attempt. 

SI in action

Spirituality should be reflected in action. Four Zen-like principles which are simple as ideas yet so deep as actions shed light on this. 

 Whoever comes is the right person.

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.

Whenever it starts is the right time.

Whenever it is over, it is over.

By practising spiritual intelligence, the Seven Sins in the world as identified by Mahatma Gandhi can be overcome, at least where an individual has some influence.

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure before conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

Way forward

What we have done so far is just experience a drop from a vast ocean. It is just an introduction to a theme which is vastly experiential. Our rational intelligence will tell us what we know. Our emotional intelligence will tell us how we feel. Our spiritual intelligence will tell us who we are. It is all about being. Let’s be human beings and not ‘human doings’ or ‘human undoings’. There is no better time than what we are passing through to reflect on ourselves. Let that inward journey be a meaningful one. 

(Prof. Ajantha S. Dharmasiri can be reached through [email protected], [email protected] or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info)

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